By Tom Cameron
Note: Tom started dancing in Tulsa in 1975 with Tulsa Swingdance Club and is still very active in the club today (JULY 2021)
Swing dancing started in the mid 1920’s and lasted until the late 1940’s, when a great decline happened. The decline was caused by several factors; the Mayor of New York City closed all the night clubs in the city and there was nowhere to dance; in the Midwest, Western music became popular; and in California the politics of dancing doomed all the contests. Yes, the politics involved in their dance contests almost destroyed the dance! So, swing dancing lay dormant for years….
In 1968 Jerry Crim formed Supreme Swing, a west coast swing dance club connected with his dance studio in Tulsa. Jerry had learned to dance in the ballrooms of San Diego, California, while he was in the Navy. He had a love for west coast swing. The first member of the Supreme Swing was John Swartz who still dances. (as of this original article)
By the mid 1970’s there was a small nucleus of swing dancers in Tulsa, (20-40, young and energetic people) one of whom was George Wright. George had met Bob Neves from Dallas at a club one evening. Bob told George about the dancing in Texas which included two non-profit clubs (the Dallas Push Club & The Houston Whip Club) which were not connected to any dance studio. The Texas clubs even had a state championship contest each year. Someone told George that Tulsa was too small for a West Coast Swing Dance club and implied it couldn’t happen in Tulsa. You don’t tell George that he can’t do something! So, George went right out and formed the Tulsa Swing Club – the year was 1977 and it began with about 20 members.
George had several brilliant ideas-the clubs began giving cheap dance lessons to its members and he challenged the Dallas & Houston clubs to a dance contest and the South West Regional Dance Association was formed. The first contest was held in Houston in 1978. Houston and Dallas thought Tulsa couldn’t compete with them, so a new category was formed-NOVICE. There were only 2 categories-Novice and Open at that first event. In 1979, the Regionals were held in Tulsa at the Caravan Ballroom and Tulsa Swing Club won the TEAM TROPHY!
St Louis also had a non-profit dance club-The Imperial Dance Club. They danced a form of East Coast Swing, Jitterbug and Shag. They challenged Tulsa to a dance contest and thus the Mid-West Challenge was Born. It lasted 15years. The Silver Age of Swing was on its way…. More to come in later issues about the evolution of Swing and about the fantastic dancers who had their beginnings in Tulsa!